California Model, California Prison Industry Authority, Rehabilitation

CALPIA braille program proves successful

Elderly man looks over shoulder of CALPIA braille program participant at Folsom State Prison.
Braille program participant George Chavez shows his work to Don Ring.

Rehabilitative program at FSP shows success locally, globally

At Folsom State Prison, incarcerated individuals transcribe books into braille for blind and visually impaired students through the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) Digital Services program.

The program has been around since 1989 through a partnership with the Folsom Lions Club.

Don Ring, past District President of the Lions Club, said this program works and is thrilled to share its success with others.

“The guys who go through this program are successful and they never return to prison,” added Ring. “They can become braille transcribers and it is fulfilling to see them change their lives for the better.”

Certification for incarcerated braille program participants

Incarcerated individuals who participate in CALPIA’s program must complete certifications through the Library of Congress and the National Braille Association. 

“Each CALPIA program has an industry accredited certification attached to it,” said CALPIA’s General Manager Bill Davidson.  “Our success rate is impressive with only 15 percent of CALPIA participants returning to custody overall. The bigger number I want to point out is that 85% of people who go through our programs are staying out of prison.”

Both Davidson and Ring agree the Braille program’s recidivism rate is even better than that. 

“Close to 100 graduates have left the Braille program and only one has come back,” said Ring. 

“85% of people who go through our programs are staying out of prison.”

Bill Davidson, CALPIA General Manager

“Each certification takes time – between 250-700 hours of learning and studying,” said Lyale Shellman, a participant of the program.

Shellman has received all his certifications in Braille, even in Math and Music. There are approximately only 20 individuals certified throughout North America who hold all certifications.  

Shellman emphasizes all the guys in the program are making a positive difference in people’s lives. 

“It’s simple. The program offers a life-changing experience. It provides a career and a means to contribute to a community less fortunate,” said Shellman.

Prison Industries Manager Joe Marti oversees CALPIA’s Digital Services program. 

“The books, maps, and services we provide are utilized by the California Department of Education, Clearinghouse for Specialized Media and Technology, as well as other agencies,” said Marti. “The quality is top-notch.”

The prison’s Braille program is recognized by the American Printing House for the Blind as one of the best Braille groups in the country.

Helping others while learning job skills

In addition to Braille, incarcerated individuals learn how to refurbish and calibrate donated eyeglasses.

The Lions Club collects eyeglasses across the state to recycle them and raise public awareness about the eyeglass refurbishing program, which is also adjacent to the braille program.  

Donated eyeglasses are refurbished and then dispersed to those in need both locally and globally.

Eyeglasses are collected from:

  • recycling programs
  • Lions Club boxes in schools and libraries, churches, optometrist offices, funeral homes
  • local eyewear vendors and retailers
  • as well as Boy Scout contributions.

Helping beyond the walls and our borders

Also on the tour was Shelley Spurlock, founder and Executive Director of Raise your Hand Foundation, a non-profit group helping those in need in West Africa.

Spurlock says the donated eyeglasses from the Lions Club are making a world-wide difference helping refugees and people living in extreme poverty.

“The impact is widespread, and I witness the need firsthand,” said Spurlock. “If you can give someone the gift of sight it opens up many opportunities for success.”

That is what program participants, including Shellman, say it’s all about. 

“It is a beautiful thing when you can help someone read or actually see clearly for the first time in their lives.”

See more CALPIA stories.

By Michele Kane, CALPIA’s Assistant General Manager, External Affairs

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